By Lara Silva
LONDON, March 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — One of the worst droughts in Pakistan's history has triggered "alarmingly high" levels of malnutrition and disease in the hardest hit areas where people have been forced to drink salty or contaminated water, the Red Cross said on Friday.
Women, especially those pregnant or breastfeeding, and children are particularly vulnerable to diarrhea, vomiting, and fever brought on by a lack of safe drinking water in the worst affected areas of the southern Sindh and Balochistan provinces.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said the organization was ramping up support to the Pakistan Red Crescent Society volunteers and staff with the release of 315,000 Swiss Francs ($316,000) in emergency funds.
The Red Cross will aim to reach 15,000 of the most vulnerable people threatened by disease and drought, it said.
"This will allow the Red Crescent to improve access to safe drinking water through solar boreholes, storage facilities, improved water treatment, and other services," the IFRC's head of country office, Thomas Gurtner, said in a statement.
"The most vulnerable people [will] receive cash transfers that give them full control of providing for their families."
An estimated 5 million people are affected by the drought, which was caused by unseasonably high temperatures and below average monsoon rainfall, both of which are influenced by the El Niño weather phenomenon, the Red Cross said.
Conditions have recently deteriorated in the drought-affected areas with malnutrition rates increasing to 30%, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in January.
The water table has dropped in most valleys and low-lying areas, and food production in the affected areas has dropped by 34%, according to the IFRC.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department forecasts that the situation will continue to deteriorate over the next four years, in part due to climate change.
($1 = 0.9980 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Lara Silva; editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)